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Review: Honor: A Novel by Thirty Umrigar

My Interest

I love to read stories set elsewhere–in this case India. I also wish American women could appreciate how amazingly privileged they are! We can dis our men all we want, but most of them do try to help at home, do spend time with the kids, and do appreciate their wives. American women are usually taken seriously when they report rape –even rape in marriage. Battered women in America can generally find help–their plight is taken seriously. We have control, oh sorry! We have “agency” over our lives (that means we have choices we can actually make). That is unheard of in so many places. We in American DO still have freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, in spite of efforts from both sides of the political spectrum to encroach on them.

Last year I had the goal of reading more from Reese Witherspoon’s book club, but mostly struck out. Honor is the pick for January 2022 and I was lucky that my library had the e-audio available with no waiting. I hope this book opens the eyes of so many who think they have it so bad. You haven’t met “bad” until you’ve seen what women go through in many other nations.

The Story

Smita, an unbelievably privileged and woke young journalist living in a fashionable area of NYC (the only place she could thrive–her parent’s Ohio college town just didn’t understand….[Must not have been Yellow Springs, eh Smita?]) agrees to help out a friend stuck in the hospital in India by finishing a series of stories on the treatment of a young woman, Meea, who marries out of her faith.

“Nobody taught us what I know today – the most dangerous animal in this world is a man with wounded pride.”

Her brothers, to defend the family’s honor (a concept we in America have largely decided can slide) have burned down the hovel in which Meena and her husband were sleeping. The husband is killed, Meena, though disfigured and somewhat disabled lives and gives birth to their daughter.

“Because a woman can live in one of two houses—fear or love. It is impossible to live in both at the same time.”

A big city women’s advocate gets Mina to go to court and try to have her brothers found guilty of murder. If you think American justice is screwed up, you ain’t seen nothing till you’ve stepped into a court room in any former “3rd World” country. (India is a 1st World country in commerce and a 2nd World or 3rd World country in other ways).

But, Mina’s is not the only story to be unraveled. Smita, too, has quiet a lot on her mind from her own childhood in India. She left the country at 14 with her family and landed in that stifling college town in (dear god, why?) Ohio. Smita is assisted by Mohan, who was her friend’s ( you remember, the journalist in the hospital?) translated and often necessary male companion. Together they set out to wait for the verdict in Mina’s case. They get to know her, her daughter, and the mother-in-law who both hates Mina and needs her.

The story ends in ways that will leave many American women stunned. (No spoilers).

My Thoughts

The oh-so-woke Smita thankfully gets a huge wake-up call (or should that be a “woke-up” call?) after even telling a woman in India that her “privilege is showing.” Yeah. But Smita redeems herself in more ways than one. Her own story is as gripping as Mina’s (no spoilers). I actually came to like and care about her–which I certainly did not see coming in the early chapters. I liked Mohan and was shocked that his story was not woke in any way. As for Meena, her story was not news to me. But I loved that she considered her time with her husband to be the happiest in her life. She, and the countless women like her, deserve more than just a token few months of happiness.

This is a great book for suburban book clubs and for those who genuinely care about the fate or women and children around the world.

My Verdict

3.75

I couldn’t go all the way to 4 stars because I am sick to literal puking of the seemingly mandatory screed against the most recent ex-president inserted into nearly every contemporary book these days. I am no fan of his AT ALL, but let him be history. We do not need a woke litmus test for publishing that includes a screed against him or anyone else.

Honor: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar

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Review: Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie–my first book finished in 2022

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My Interest

It gets boring to keep saying “I needed an audio,” but that’s the real reason I turned to this one. It had the added bonus of taking care of the annual “short story collection” square on the annual reading bingo card, too.

The Story…or Stories

This is a new collection (2020) of 12 themed stories drawn from the work of Agatha Christie. From them I had 3 favorites:

  • Three Blind Mice, which according to Wikipedia (who can doubt this source lol) is an alternative version of dear Agatha’s forever-running play, Mousetrap. I liked it because the couple who have decided to have paying guests at their newly acquired rambling country home brought to mind the story in Ruth Adam’s wonderful book, A House in the Country.
  • The Coming of Mr. Quin, was such fun because it is set on New Year’s Eve and quite by chance I listened to it on my way to/fro work at the store for a few hours. That (and getting to leave early) made my New Year’s Eve fun.
  • The Plymouth Express, again according to The Agatha Christie Wiki, was enlarged and altered a little to become the novel The Mystery of the Blue Train. I liked the opening–finding a dead body on a train! Imagine! And the twists and turns were so well done. I’m not a big mystery reader so I find my fun with these in other ways. I loved the vivid blue dress, for example and the Robber Baron-ish father.

And one, honorable mention:

  • Christmas Adventure–I just missed listening to this on Christmas Eve, but chose something else instead. The Agatha Christie Wiki tells me it was also titled The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding.  Set on Christmas Eve it features a couple of bored spoiled brats who decide to fake a murder for fun. Kids in drafty, great English country houses at Christmas had too much time on their hands and no hovering helicopter parents to reign them in I guess! The parents are out shooting peasants or playing silly games to notice what their nearly unknown offspring are up to and Nanny is knackered and imbibing the medicine cabinet brandy on the sly. I loved the whole atmosphere of a family house party with some friends, cranky, fed-up servants, and kids who need to go back to boarding school early! No wonder the landed classes believed in so much time out-of-doors–it save their sanity.

My Verdict

I’ve done better with short stories and essays the last few years. This collection was a nice, breezy, thing.

3.0

Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery by Agatha Christie

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Book Two by Ellen Cooney. Review: Thanksgiving

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My Interest

As you probably guessed, I intended to read this for the 2021 Thanksgiving holiday. I started, made great progress, got distracted, and…finally finished it as my last book of 2021. Update: Belated thank you to The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for introducing me to this book. (Sorry this was left out when the post was published). Won’t you click the link and read her thoughts on this book, too?

The Story

Beginning in 1662 and ending in 2012, each chapter (more like a vignette) gets its title from one of the foods associated with the holiday. The first chapter is, of course, “Turkey,” while the last is simply “Dinner”–i.e. the entire meal. Through the course of the book we follow the many generations of the Morely family, their lives, the times they inhabit, the changes, joys, and tragedies of one American family at this one time of year.

My Thoughts

This is a somewhat quirky book, but enjoyable. I liked seeing the way the family changed. I thought that giving the chapters the name of a food was very creative. I liked seeing how our world evolved, how the process of feeding the family changed, and how life got both easier and harder.

This is a great read for the holiday. It’s an excellent book club choice for November, too. Just read it.

My Rating

4.0

Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney

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Book one of two by Ellen Cooney. Review: The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances: A Novel

My Interest

I put this book on my TBR when it was released. I was, again, hunting for an audio and found it available at my library. It is purely coincidental that I had two books by this author going at the same time–this one in audio and the second, Thanksgiving, on my Kindle. (I’m reviewing Thanksgiving tomorrow).

The Story

Evie answers a job ad to train dogs. Or is it dogs training people? She isn’t sure. Is there a manual? A textbook? Or is she writing one? When the story opens she is stuck down the mountain from the dog sanctuary at an Inn run by a crusty old lady.

Evie’s own past is a bit cloudy, but she seems to have a few things in common with some of the dogs. As does Big George, a kid who helps with rescues. And the dog-treat baking woman and, well, and each of the volunteers who come in and out of the story working with the dogs. And, are there nuns (or ex-nuns) in this book?

And then there are the rescue missions–cloak and dagger operations to save dogs. These made the book have an element of a thriller.

But it is the dogs–their personalities, their friendships, and their pasts, and their play, that make the book so memorable.

My Thoughts

No animal has ever left my home except by a natural death or an unavoidable euthanasia–by “unavoidable” I mean kidneys failing and death being days of misery away. Never out of “inconvenience.”

What caught my eye though was her monologue on adoption. (I’m sorry–it was too long to copy down on the side of the road while listening to the book in the car). You see, I’m a mom through adoption. I love the progress we have made on protecting and saving animals, and admire the people who have made that happen, but people often live 60 to 80 years longer than our pets (some even more than that). I’d love to see the same zeal applied to “rescuing” adoptable children in the world’s foster care programs. That warmed my heart.

This is an interesting book. It is not for everyone. I live out in the country. Pittbulls and others are rescued from fighting out here as well as in the cities. It’s a scourge. I felt genuinely bad for the other dogs (even though this was a novel and they were all fictional) at all the attention given to the arriving “Pitties.” I think there is little hope for former fighting dogs. That’s sad, I know, but had I been in charge, I would likely have had them put down. Too many awful things happen to people–especially children, when exposed to fighting dogs.

Also where I live, Amish farmers and others “farm” popular breeds of dogs–i.e. run puppy mills. I HATE THAT. I hate it with all my heart and soul. Dog fighting and puppy mills are so horrendous–yet we turn a blind eye, just as we do to the abuses to kids in foster care (which have a much greater impact on our world).

Who would enjoy this book? Anyone who is realistic about the world today and the animals in it. There are no “trigger” moments in my opinion (your personal past may make you see it differently, ok?). Things may seem to be heading that way, but they stop short of it. If you enjoy dogs, you will want to meet Hank, Boomer, Tasha, Dapple, and all the others. This is their story and it is a good one. It shows that one person getting involved can make a big difference. We need to be reminded of that every day.

I’m sorry that this is a “dark” review–it is still a good review. The book is well worth it. I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

3.5

The Mountaintop School for Dogs…and Other Second Chances by Ellen Cooney

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Review: Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

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My Interest

What could be nice when needing an audio then to find a Dean Street Press’s Furrowed Middlebrow series title available at my library? Nothing, that’s what! I’ve loved each book in this series that I’ve read. This one, if I remember correctly, is the first I’ve found on audio–the rest I’ve bought for Kindle.

The Story

Alison Penny awakes on her 40th birthday not realizing how much her life is about to be disturbed. She has a faithful servant–Ada, a nice, cozy home, a nice, cozy routine of Church, the Women’s Institute, bridge and what-not and the attention of two potential suitors. Stanley, a rather fussy retired bank manager, and Hubert, the local vicar who is a widower with a son, Ronny, who is generally off at his public [private boarding] school. But, what Alison likes best on her birthday is the annual letter from her first love, George.

Soon though, all of this coziness is shattered when Alison “rescues” [stops] a young woman from drowning herself in the local duck pond. Feeling obligated after getting involved, Alison brings the young woman home to recuperate. Little does she realize that this will upset the balance of her life as well as turn the heads of her suitors.

But wait! There’s more! Low and behold she has another visitor (no spoilers). Life then goes into a sort of social hyperventilation aided by the skating pond being frozen solid and an ice skating frenzy seizing the village! What will Miss Penny do? And, what about Miss Plum–the young woman who now seems to never plan to leave? But, oh, dear, Thursday is the WI. (You’ll need to read the book to understand this line). A glass of port, please.

My Thoughts

Aside from gagging at the thought of canned fruit swimming in Carnation evaporated milk (yuck!), I loved this story. Stanley and Hubert, Ronnie’s wonderful take on things, Ada’s forthright opinions (and the picture she painted of a certain corset–no spoilers), Alison wondering why she stepped out of her niche–it was simply wonderful.

Like Miss Penny, I do wonder why it is the Miss Plums of the world–the vapid, helpless little creatures (or the total #itch-women) who get the men following them like they were the Pied Piper. What’s the attraction? Why is a woman who can take care of herself so unattractive to men? Why are such women always called “threatening.” Why do men feel such women do not “need” them? Age old dilemma.

We reach an age–don’t we? An age at which dating is absurd. Except relationships are essential. Life is routine and routine is comforting–until it is stifling. We need the Miss Plums to happen, we need the Ronnies around for the holiday. We need our trees shaken for our own good. This book does that beautifully.

My Verdict

4 stars

Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith is $2.99 for Kindle

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Review: The Mitford Vanishing by Jessica Fellowes

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Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of the audio of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

The glamorous Mitford girls, daughters of Lord Redesdale (a first cousin of Clementine Churchill), were “influencers” (in today’s terms) in posh society in 1930’s London.  Unity became one of the first well known stalkers–she was in love with Hitler and stalked him till she got to meet him. Nancy left a Guinness (yes, THAT Guinness family) for Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascists, and Jessica was a communist who later wrote exposes on the funeral industry and birth “industry” in the USA among other works.  They fascinate me for another reason, too. The tiny bit of truly “formalized” education any of the girls received (beyond a governess) was thru Charlotte Mason’s Parents Education Union.  I’d love to do some sort of fiction about THAT part of their lives!

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Photo credit (click)
Lord and Lady Redesdale with their six daughters and son, Tom, in 1928.

The author, Jessica Fellowes, is niece of Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey. So, she’s not likely to make a hash of titles or forms of address, now is she?

The Story

1937–the Coronation of the new King George VI looms, war rages in Spain and the 5 of Lord Redesdale’s six daughters has vanished! Former Mitford family nursery maid, Louisa Cannon, now a private investigator with her husband (a former police detective) is called upon to discreetly find her! Younger sister Deborah’s (aka “Debo” later Duchess of Devonshire and one time sister-in-law of Kick Kennedy) debutante season and marriage prospects are potentially to be diminished by the possible scandal! (Someone pass the smelling salts! And, please, sweet tea and Sherry!) Meanwhile, two very ordinary women have disappeared–is there a link? Louisa and husband, Guy, must find out.

The story is based on the real life “disappearance” of Jessica, aka “Decca” Mitford when she ran off with some-degree-of-cousin-disant-enough-to-marry, Esmond Romilly–a nephew of Clementine Churchill. Married while already expecting the couple’s first child–who would die from lack of a measles shot. Esmond died in World War II. Esmond and Jessica were some of the few young people who were truly committed to the Communist cause in 1930s, in spite of the many who claimed it.

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The Hon. Jessica (“Decca”) Mitford and husband, Mr. Esmond Romilly.  Photo: TIme-Life.

My Thoughts

I think this entire series is already on my TBR, but I wish I hadn’t waited so long to jump into it. It’s pretty well done for a who-done-it series! (I’ve posted about it before in this post). It’s hard to write about mysteries without giving away the whole story. I liked the way the Mitford family is fictionalized–they are believable here. I also like the way Louisa has come into her own in the series–that’s a great touch. That the topic of the “side” murders is something women today can relate too–i.e. a 1930’s #metoo moment and battered wives, is ok with me. It’s handled in the terms of the era of the story–nothing too modern occurs. And, one thing that happened I don’t think Agatha Christie would have considered! That was a great idea [No spoilers].

I will definitely go back and start at the beginning–a rare compliment from me, previously given only to Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series!

Note to the editor of this book: It was called a “receiver,” not a “hand set.” Gosh, will this mistake never end? “Hand set” entered the language with cordless phones. And, an “invisibility cloak”? It was just used to describe something, but please…. Tiny things, but ….

My Verdict

4 Stars

(or should that be four peer’s coronets?)

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Review: A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell

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My Interest

I had intended this memoir as my nonfiction work for Novellas in November, as well as for Nonfiction November. But, life got in the way and I missed the deadline. At 254 pages it was just a touch too long for #NovNov, but it still read like a Novella so that’s that. Plus, first hand account of the Blitz are always fascinating and this one was well worth the extra pages.

The Story

The Blitz was providing something besides bombs. It was making people talk to one another.” (p. 102)

Olivia Faviell Lucas, the real name of author Francis Faviell, traveled the world between the wars. At the time of this memoir, she was about to be married to Richard Parker, a Civil Servant. She lived in Chelsea right by the Royal Hospital, with her little dachshund, Vicki, and earned her living as a painter having trained at the Slade School. The story begin as the war is starting. Frances is a volunteer in the first aid and fire services. Her work takes her into the inferno of dropping incendiaries and other types of bombs in the beginning of the war and the time now known as the Blitz.

In spite of the war, hers is a nice life lived in pleasant surroundings–a home that we would today say was “curated,” that is filled with treasures from her travels including the green glass cat on the cover of the book. His story is told in the beginning of the book. We meet her friends, neighbors, housekeeper, and other residents of her lovely Chelsea neighborhood.

Her work with the wounded and the dead is often very grisly. It is the sort of things we often say “I couldn’t do that” because war has never forced us to try. Due to her language ability, she is called upon to help with a nearby community of Belgian refugees.

The war comes home to Frances while she is expecting her first child–she briefly loses her nerve, then steels herself and gets on with helping the wounded. Like the Queen Mother famously said after Buckingham Palace was bombed, she could look the East end “in the face” so too can Frances look that way at her Belgian refugees.

My Thoughts

“The Blitz was doing something else–it was cotninuing the slow difficult process already begun before the war of breaking down class barriers.” (p. 102)

Being political, my first thought was just WHO was the friend that The Rt Hon Leslie Hore Belisha always going to visit in Chelsea–enabling Frances to have a chat with her friend, a volunteer, who was his driver? lol.

More to the point, I wondered how people kept going. Today would we (Americans) ever agree to rationing? To everyone obeying a neighbor appointed as an air raid or fire warden? Please–we can’t even agree on getting a shot today. We’d fight over it till the end. And, people just kept going. Yes, some had what were then called “nervous breakdowns,” and smoking and drinking were rife, but people kept going. Send our children away? I cannot imagine doing that. I just cannot. Euthanize our pets (as many had to do)? Brutal–yet so many at that time did so for the good of all.

There are so many brave moments in this story it is hard to single out even one. The Belgian woman who is castigated for never going to visit her newborn baby is among the most vivid aside from some of the violence from the bombs (too horrific to discuss). Unmarried, not sure she’ll ever see the father again, in a strange country, very, very ill and yet she is harassed by neighbors and do-gooders to get out of her sickbed and go to the countryside to see her evacuated newborn who wouldn’t know her from Adam. That was truly harsh. So too was the clean, tidy, clergyman who told a woman who’d just lost her husband in violent circumstances to accept it as God’s will and move on. He wasn’t really wrong–she would have to accept it and move on at some point, but his timing was callus even for a world war. And, I was with Frances checking out those manicured hands that had never even dug to plant a vegetable, let alone dug up a human or their remains. Judgy? Yep–war is hell.

I’m off my reviewing game, so I’m not really making this sound anywhere near as interesting and as readable as it was. But it’s another of the rare books to which I’ve given a 4.5 rating. Several this year which is unusual. Read it. You won’t be sorry. Like everything coming from Dean Street Press, it is worth it.

My Verdict

4.5

Apparently this memoir is mentioned in this documentary.

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20 Books For Christmas Review #6: Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop by Rebecca Raisin

My Interest

A Christmas book with a VW Bus on the cover? Since I LOVE those vehicles, and collect VW Bus things, I’d say, “Yes, please” to reading it.

“I probably need to love to a small town and fall in love with a geeky librarian who is surprisingly hot when he takes his glasses off and parts his hair on the other side.”

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Image credit

The Story

Flora just can’t help messing up! A Christmas freak, she even gets fired from a Christmas store. She also can’t keep a man, but then who could when she demands they recite the names of Santa’s reindeer on the first date? When he best friend and roommate moves to L.A. to finally launch her skincare line, she helps Flora re-launch herself in the guise of a Hallmark Christmas movie heroine! (Well, they use that as a model for the re-launch, no actual filming takes place).

Flora decides to try van life–in Lapland, which is where Father Christmas lives as opposed to the North Pole where American kids KNOW Santa lives. She finds a great van and then meets a Norse God named…Conor? Hmmm….. Somehow she doesn’t know that’s an Irish name. Norse God runs the Christmas market where Flora is setting up her shop from her van.

Given the Hallmark movie theme, you can probably predict the rest, right?

My Thoughts

I loved this one from start to predictable finish. Just like the real Hallmark Christmas movies it is wonderfully sappy, totally predictable and so wonderful I wanted to hug people. I might even have been persuaded to wear reindeer antlers or something silly like that–I was THAT into the Christmas spirit.

My Scrooge-self did love this line though:

“…forcing families to be together when they are better off apart.”

Lots of wisdom in that line. I also agreed with much of Connor’s Christmas thoughts [no spoilers]. But after the sauna scene I really wish they’d put Connor on the cover in his hospital-visit costume [No spoilers]!!!

Never mind my liking of bah-humbug-ish lines, just go grab this one and read it and enjoy it!

 

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Novellas in November Review # 2 and 20 Books For Christmas Review # 5: The Walnut Tree: A Holiday Tale by Charles Todd

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My Interest

A World War I “holiday” tale featuring a titled English lady? Sure, why not!

The Story

Lady Elspeth Douglas is in Paris with a heavily pregnant friend as war is declared. She thinks she may be in love with her friend’s brother, too. After staying on to help the friend deliver her baby, Elspeth set off on one of the more unlikely journeys of the war. Through amazing coincidences she runs into most of her former dance partners and her male cousins–all serving in highland regiments. She speaks Gaelic with the piper and French  with port authorities. Along the way she ends up, briefly, at the front. She helps with the wounded. Eventually she lands back in ole Blighty to be a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Services–but “forgets” to include her courtesy title on the application. She’s a fabulous nurse (Of course she! She has pluck! She’s the daughter of an Earl, of course she gets her way!).

Along the way she has doubts about the Frenchman she’s all but agreed to marry when she runs into a neighboring well-born chap who knows her cousins from their public school (American Prep School–like Bush and the Roosevelts and JFK attended). But then, yes, Then! Somehow–but HOW? Her guardian, whom she at least acknowledges is not evil, pulls the plug on her free-spirited life. And, somehow, yes SOMEHOW, she goes back to France and miraculously the Frenchman has survived injury, being taken as a Prisoner of War and being exchanged (well it COULD all happen, right?). But she is so conflicted! Which man is right for her?

My Thoughts

Ok, I’m having a little fun with this review. It’s the sort of book where you must accept that people CAN run into each other at the Battle of Ypres, ok? And that no one, NO ONE, realized an Aristocrat who’d never uttered a word in any but the poshest of posh accents, could suddenly “pass” as a mere middle class girl of good family-the people she encountered were so dim they couldn’t tell her origins form her accent at a time when accent was everything.

What I liked was: Elspeth had no modern ideas of hiding away “living in sin.” She knew she’d be ruined. She played as fast and loose with the “rules” of her world as far as she could. She knew her limits. She mostly respected the authority of her Guardian, even loved him (he was her uncle) and adored her cousins. Yes she had “pluck” and even “spunk,” a quality that I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Lou Grant on (remember that scene in the Mary Tyler Moore Show? See the bottom of this post).

Miss Georgina Worsley with Major James Bellamy (left), Princess Mary (center), and Lady Sibyl Crawley (right)

I loved Elspeth’s romance with Peter–it was sweet and honorable. He was a good chap. She was a good girl. They did not hop into be ala 2021 but acted like folks pushing the outside of the envelope in 1915. I found it odd though that her Guardian looked down on nursing when the King’s only daughter trained as a nurse at this time and the King’s own mother founded the nursing service. Princess Mary, later the Princess Royal, was kept in London and only nursed mothers and children, but….in the two great period dramas, Upstairs, Downstairs (the real one–from the ’70s) and Downton Abbey, posh aristo’s Miss Georgina Worsley, ward of the Hon Richard Bellamy, M.P. and step-granddaughter of the Dowager Countess of Southwald and Lady Sybil Crawley were nursing sisters. Dear Georgina even went to France where, she naturally, just happened to stumble upon wounded cousin “Jumbo” aka Major James Bellamy. Of course she did! See? It had to be acceptable to nurse! Georgina, like Lady Edith Crawly in Downton ended up a Marchioness!!! Of course poor Sybil….

My only true complain with this book wasn’t titles–they were fine. It was a stupid mystery worked in. It was really more like it had been started in the first draft and forgotten. No one remembered to edit it out. It was awful, but mercifully it only took up a few lines. When pulling the cover for this post I discovered this was another “between the numbers” sort of tale in the Bess Crawford mystery series. Lady Elspeth was a colleague of Bess’s in Queen Alix’s nursing service. I don’t have any interest in Bess, but I’d love a sequel on Lady Elspeth.

I’ve poked fun at this story, but the truth is I really enjoyed it! The stupid mystery cost it some in my rating. A final comment, there is Christmas in this story but I would not really call this a “Christmas” book. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying it though.

Note: This is a little longer than Novellas in November’s suggested Novella length–308 pages in all, but it is a very light read.

My Verdict

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Review: Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

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My Interest

First off–that gorgeous cover! I loved it. I could just see my Grandmother’s dressed like that! Second–the authors. I’ve loved their past collaborations: Last Christmas in Paris and Meet Me in Monaco–the latter is the main reason I was sooooo anxious to read or listen to this book.

 

The Story

Two twenty-something sisters have gone their separate ways on their separate paths. One is a typical debutante-type engaged to the rich sort of man and living the right sort of life. The other, inspired by the family’s friend, fabled journalist Nellie Bly (second book this year to mention her) is a Katherine Hepburn-ish, slacks-wearing, wanna-be journalist. In 1937 Hamptons estates I need not mention which daughter was doing the “right” thing, do I? In comes Grandma’s last wish. She wants them to hand-deliver a few letters in Europe. The tickets are booked on the Queen Mary, the Orient Express, and then back home on, you guessed it, The Hindenberg! (“Oh the humanity!” I screamed). All sorts of family secrets (most extremely predictable) will be revealed along the way.

My Thoughts

Where to start? The family secerts? One was so common in historical fiction now that it was like the free space on a bingo card. I guess the other big one straight away.  (Ok I was wrong about one thing, sister x did not echo Captain Von Trapp and get the nice air steward on the Hindenberg to flee the Nazis with her.). Then there are the lessons supposedly learned in this “coming of age” novel. The most profound thought either woman offers on the good travel has done them is that [something like this–I’m not going back to find the exact quote] “when one journey ends, another begins.” Seriously.

I was very disappointed in this book. This pair of authors write much better than this. This was just not of the caliber of their other joint ventures. Historical fiction pet peeve after pet peeve reared its ugly head in this one. They arrive in Vienna to eat…brats and kraut? Like in Milwaukee? UGH. An American who wants to be a crusading journalist,  who is constantly reading the papers,  always butting in and asking what folks think of political situations, who is fascinated by the Nazi rally (in Austria) is “outraged” by the treatment of a Jewish person, but who apparently never noticed the lynchings at home everywhere during this time period? In an America where anti-semitism and even Nazi-sympathies were still very common (hello, America First movement) to the point that the persecuted Jews applying for asylum were lucky to get the most cursory of hearings and were almost never given a visa? That was the end of this book for me ( though I did finish it). Sanitizing language and giving woke-ish phrases in the mix does not make historical fiction somehow “better.” It cheapens it. (No, no, no, I do not mean go back to racial slurs or anything like that, the language change was minor). Gaynor and Webb are so much better than this–I am guessing for once an editor was involved.

Three Words for Goodbye was not “awful.” it was not “bad.” It just wasn’t on par with Gaynor and Webb’s other collaborations. Predictable plot, flat, stereotyped characters, unsurprising family secrets–nothing here was worthy of the pair. I did think the part covering the Hindenberg trip almost reached something to be proud of in terms of atmosphere. Almost. I finished it out of loyaty to the authors and with the hope that after Meet Me in Monaco their publisher DEMANDED something to make quick money off of and this was all they had time to cobble together around writing their solo books. Writing is very hard work. It takes time. Good books are rarely just “churned out.” I want to be fair. Both are excellent writers. This was not excellent. It was, however, sadly what is becoming typical women’s historical fiction of today. “Dumbed down” is a good phrase to describe it. It was ‘ok.’

Nonetheless, I am looking forward to their next book already and am hoping they regain their joint stride and are given time to work their true magic with words.

Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

P.S. I must have zoned out when the title was explained. I still do not know if it meant Au Voir, Arrivederci, and Auf Wiedersehen (since they traveled to France, Italy, and Austria) or…what? [And yes, I could hear the Von Trapp Family kids singing the goodnight song as I typed this].

My Verdict

3.0

That’s a generous verdict due to my fondness for their past work.